Daf Yomi Sotah 4
It was thirty five degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) and we had just finished a great game of high school cricket. I went over to the water fountain and made the bracha “Baruch Ata Hashem . . . shehakol nihyeh bidvaro” – everything is made by G-d’s word. I took a refreshing gulp of water. Just then, a fellow from the opposing team came over.
“Expletive!” he swore loudly, “Sure is hot today, ain’t it?”
Rav Avira expounded the following teaching, sometimes quoting Rabbi Ami, sometimes quoting Rabbi Assi: Anyone who eats bread without first washing their hands ‘netilat yadayim,’ it is as if he engaged in illicit relations.
Why would neglecting to wash before eating bread be akin to infidelity? While the parallel between these two behaviours may appear a little far-fetched, both actions are curiously motivated by the same thinking; or better put: lack of thinking. Ever met a cheater who actually planned to cheat? More often than not, sadly, when someone is caught cheating their response is ‘It just happened.’ Rav Avira’s message is that nothing in life should ‘just happen.’
Netilat yadayim before bread is a reminder that you don’t just eat without any forethought. Partaking of the Almighty’s bounty requires preparation, it demands purification. Every time you take a sip of water you must thank Heaven, but prior to eating an entire meal you need, not only to bless G-d, but to sanctify yourself for the task ahead. This bread is going to give you the strength to serve Heaven – when you wash your hands first, you are elevating yourself to be ready to undertake your Divine mission.
We have a ‘minhag’ in our home on Shabbos that probably happens at many other Shabbos tables, especially when Shabbos-uninitiated guests are present. We’re at the table; we’ve sung Shalom Aleichem and Aishes Chayil. We’ve blessed the children. We’ve made Kiddush and we’ve finally sat down to drink the wine. We then say, ‘Now that you’re all comfortable, it’s time to get up and go wash our hands.’
That’s the point of netilat yadayim – to remove us from our comfort zones. To shake us up and remind us that eating doesn’t just happen. That nothing in life should just happen. That the minutest action in our lives must be planned and given purpose and meaning.
Animal behaviour just happens. Human beings have intelligence and our actions should never just happen. May you merit a life of direction and purpose with the right thought and preparation necessary for every step you take!